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Sea otter population strong in Morro Bay but declining statewide

Posted at 5:55 PM, Sep 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-26 22:38:16-04

Sea Otter Awareness Week is this Sept. 23-29.

As people celebrate these sea creatures, we’re learning that California sea otter numbers have taken a slight dip from last year.

According to data released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Geological Survey, this year’s average count was 3,128.

That’s 58 otters less than the 2017 survey.

At the same time, the population has been large enough for the past three consecutive years to be considered for delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

Local experts say the population is actually doing pretty well in Morro Bay. More than 50 sea otters were counted there both this year and last year. In 2016, that number was in the 40s.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Louise Pevreal of Australia.

“They’re so, so cute!” said Gloria Torres of Fresno.

They’re cute and they’re clever and drew quite the crowd of spectators near Morro Rock on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m not even going to qualify it by saying one of the best,” said Gena Bentall, Program Coordinator of Sea Otter Savvy. “It is the best spot on the Central Coast to observe wild sea otters.”

Especially, moms with pups.

“And they’re kind of grooming each other and snuggling up and it’s heartwarming. It’s just so beautiful to see,” Pevreal said.

“We had 53 sea otters counted inside Morro Bay as part of the 2018 survey,” said Mike Harris, Senior Environmental Scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That’s one of the higher counts we’ve had inside Morro Bay in recent years.”

They’re endearing and endangered. To be considered for delisting from the Federal Endangered Species Act, 3,090 is the benchmark population number.

“We have, as a result of this current survey, reached that threshold,” Harris added.

That benchmark was developed a couple of decades ago and different factors are influencing the population, so sea otters may not be pulled off the list just yet.

For example, an increase in shark bites is impacting the population.

“We’re definitely seeing it in Morro Bay, Estero Bay, and Pismo Beach areas,” Harris continued.

A sea otter pup named Langly is currently recovering in Sausalito after its mom was bitten by a shark in Pismo Beach. She later died.

There’s also been an increase in sea otters with Valley Fever, specifically in San Luis Obispo County and it’s impacting population growth.

As part of Sea Otter Awareness Week, binoculars will be set up near Morro Rock from now through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to educate the public about these special marine mammals.

“I’m kind of stunned that we can get so close to them and see them in their natural habitat,” Pevreal concluded.

There will also be a lecture on sea otters happening at the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History. It’s from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday.

An assistant professor of biology from Sonoma State University will take the stage. The public is invited.